Artisan — as it applies to just about anything — is one of the biggest buzzwords in the food world right now, and artisan pizza places have been popping up like the mushrooms in their toppings during the past few years. While they have yet to become as numerous as, say, Starbucks, it’s getting to the point that the mere fact that a pizzeria hews to an artisan tradition — with the original pizzaolos in Naples, Italy, usually invoked — isn’t enough to draw attention.
I was alerted to Custom Built Artisan Pizza by a couple of readers who were impressed with their sauces, notably the pistachio pesto, and toppings that include such offbeat choices as chorizo, cilantro and arugula. While those were tempting, I was more intrigued by the Eggplant Parm Pizza ($9.45), and it turned out to be reason enough to make a stop at Custom Built. Provided, of course, that you like eggplant Parmesan.
Like the other artisan pizza places, Custom Built uses a wood-fired oven to bake its stretchy crusts just right, and we did find the dough to be very well executed, complete with the slightly smoky flavor and aroma and attendant charred spots that come from baking on the floor of a wood-fired oven. All of those are good things; when somebody occasionally complains to me about the “burnt” spots on such pizzas, I have to wonder just what they’re thinking.
But I digress; back to the Eggplant Parm Pizza. I’ve had these in various places over the years, and never was I real thrilled with the way the theme was carried out. That changed at Custom Built. It started, of course, with the exemplary crust, but continued with a nicely seasoned (and not overly salty) marinara, which was topped with just enough pieces of seasoned and lightly breaded eggplant — just enough, because too much can be overwhelming, which has been the case with most of the others. Some mozzarella, some Romano, and we had a nice pizza.
Which was almost the case with the 1889 Pizza Margherita ($8.45), but not quite. It had the great crust, nice ripe tomatoes and good mozzarella, which the menu said was of the bufala variety; that was a little difficult to discern in this usage, but it was fresh.
But the basil — an essential ingredient of this classic pizza — was MIA.
Which was odd, because our Caprese Salad ($5.95) had plenty of fresh basil, along with some arugula, nice ripe tomatoes and little cups of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. On the other hand, the mozzarella in this one wasn’t the soft, fresh type but the really solid sort of supermarket variety, whose manufactured nature clashed badly with the natural notes of the rest of the ingredients. Why they wouldn’t put basil on the pizza when they obviously had it, and use fresh mozzarella for the salad, was a mystery to me.
Service throughout was OK. Custom Built is a counter-service spot (there’s definitely a lot of that going around lately, not that there’s anything wrong with that), and it was a little confusing to determine where we were supposed to order, because when we approached what turned out to be the right spot the guy ignored us; when we asked a young woman at the register, another guy appeared to take our order.
So Custom Built has a little bit of confusion to clear up. But it shows lots of promise, and makes a heck of an Eggplant Parm Pizza.
Las Vegas Review-Journal restaurant reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Email Heidi Knapp Rinella at Hrinella@reviewjournal.com, or call 702-383-0474. Follow @HKRinella on Twitter.